Deer are adaptable and learn quickly. Using a combination of control strategies is usually the most effective way to limit the amount of damage they cause.
1. Install Fences
One sure-fire way to prevent deer damage is a tall fence. This method is especially helpful in discouraging deer from entering backyards where pets or people are often active, gardens adjacent to your home, around vegetable gardens, or even around smaller gardens when you may plant some of your prized ornamental plants. When it comes to fencing in large open spaces, deer have been known to leap over 7' high fences, so an 8' to 10' fence may be needed. Though for many homeowners, fencing more than a small area isn't practical, both aesthetically and financially.
2. Apply Repellents
We work with gardeners across the country, and we've found that gardeners have the most success using deer use repellents. There are several commercially available products reputed to repel deer, such as "Deer Off", which are widely available at garden centers and hardware stores. Some have an odor that is unpleasant to deer; some have an unpleasant taste. Apply them early in the season, when food sources for deer are more scarce, and before deer have gotten in the habit of eating in your landscape. Be sure to reapply as needed, especially after it rains. Of course, many of the repellents used to deter deer are unpleasant to humans, too, so be considerate of where you use them, especially neat food crops.
In early spring, young plants are at their greatest risk of being eaten by deer -- even those that are highly deer resistant. Young plants need time to produce their natural defenses, such as oils in their leaves and stalks, to defend against deer. Deer may be very hungry after a long winter, and desperate enough to make an exception to their normal diet. There are easy workarounds to keep your plants safe:
- Keep young plants potted in containers until they're big enough to transplant in the garden.
- Or, drape a lightweight sheet over your outdoor garden beds at night.
3. Use Scare Devices
Deer are easily startled, so using a motion detector to trigger a distraction, such as a sprinkler, trigger floodlights, or turn on a radio, will work for a short time. However, deer will quickly become accustomed to them, sometimes within as little as a week. Varying the scare devices every week can extend their effectiveness. However, remember to be mindful of how the scare devices might affect your neighbors!
4. Provide Ample Food Alternatives
Many gardeners have found that simply offering easy access to alternative foods reduces damage to ornamental plants. For example, placing feeding stations, or planting groundcovers such as clover, at the far corners of your landscape can draw wildlife away from the most decorative areas of your garden.
Another option is to plant a buffer or a "living fence" that discourages deer from getting too close to the garden you want to protect. For example, rather than leaving a large lawn area mowed very short, which gives deer easy access to your garden, you may want to plant a large border of wildflowers around your property. Not only does this look beautiful, but it would also give deer an area to graze that's distanced from your more precious plants.
5. Select Deer-Resistant Plants
By choosing plants that are unpalatable to deer, you can reduce the amount of damage in your landscape. In general, plants that taste bitter or spicy, those with bitter milky sap, thorny plants, and those with hairy or fuzzy leaves are less attractive to deer.
Explore some of our favorite plants, including wildflowers, plants, and flower bulbs for a beautiful, deer-resistant garden! Although no plant is 100% deer-proof, we have recommendations for plants that are generally avoided by deer.
For Best Results, Combine Strategies
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet when it comes to deterring deer. Combining several different management strategies is the best way to protect your garden. It is also a good idea to rotate between different methods to prevent animals from growing accustomed to one particular scare tactic, repellent, or other protective measure.
To learn more, read 8 Ways To Critter-Proof Your Fall Bulb Plantings!